The Grand Canyon Seen in 6 Feet

By | 2015-04-11T09:42:21+00:00 Apr 11th, 2015|

“I don’t care what you say anymore. This is my life.” ~Billy Joel

If I were to be critical of myself, I’d say that most of my life has been lived “on rails”, referring to video games that play out on a mostly predetermined track. In a lot of ways, it is sort of fitting because I have a really hard time focusing and maintaining my attention span on anything for more than a few minutes. I went to grade school, high school, college and grad school… wrapping all of that up the way I was “supposed to”. I got a job, meandered through a few more, and basically did what I needed to do to pay the rent, pay the bills, and buy junk that I thought I needed but barely even wanted. A lot of how I lived my life could be considered predictable. Spontaneity was never a strong suit of mine, to say the least. It’s no one’s fault, of course. No one needs to be blamed here. It just is. So, you could imagine my excitement when a plan to roam around the southwestern US for two weeks with my good bud, Colby Brown, hatched up only a few days before departing. On top of that, the agenda itself was almost entirely unformed. We were going to evolve it day by day. Clearly a departure from my typical MO.

The Grand and Overwhelming Canyon

Upon landing in Las Vegas and hustling to get the best deal we could on a rental car (another form of spontaneity for me—I always make my rental car reservations in advance), Colby and I beelined it to Grand Canyon National Park, about a 4.5 hour drive. We timed it so that we could catch the sunset, using it as a springboard for the motif of our trip. Fortunately, we made it to the South Rim, my fourth time here and, surprisingly, Colby’s first time (he has been to the North Rim), parking near Yavapai Point. From the car, it was an effortless single minute walk down a few stone stairs to the observation deck—a wide open platform with a metal guard rail about four feet high. Fortunately, it didn’t pose any sort of hinderance for our tripods.

You’d think that visiting this area three previous times would have made it easier for me to make sense of this natural wonder in terms of finding my compositions. In a lot of cases, you’d be right. However, the Grand Canyon is certainly an exception. There just is no getting using to how massive and intricate it is—two adjectives that don’t bode well for someone with a short attention span. For me, standing at this precipice, trying to make sense of what I’m seeing can be a challenge. It’s exceptionally overwhelming and, to top it off, there was a sense of urgency because the light was quickly starting to fade. It was this urgency that served as the impetus for this post. Instead of frenetically worrying about finding new places to stand to capture my photos, I would focus on capturing the intricacies and facets of the view in front of me solely within the six feet of standing room that I had at the edge of the observation deck.

Peace in the confine

To be honest, I didn’t think that imposing this restriction on myself would lead to anything substantial. However, I was pleasantly surprised! Once I absolved myself of the anxiety to find different locations to photograph from, I must have freed up some creative cycles in my brain and was able to simply enjoy looking for the little details. Sure, I used my wide angle lenses to capture the massive expanse in front of me but it was when I turned to my telephoto zoom lens that the real fun began. It was within those longer focal lengths that the real characters of the Grand Canyon showed themselves to me. If I’m being totally honest, it was so fulfilling that I could see myself only ever shooting it with long lenses, forgoing the need to fit it all into a single frame… unless I’m there during a total cloud inversion.

Taking Multiple Roads

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Ultimately, each person who visits the Grand Canyon must take it upon themselves to make sense of it how they see fit. In my experience, it is a real treat to stare out and marvel at how gigantic this canyon is. It’s one of those things that you really need to see to fully appreciate. No photo can ever truly let you comprehend its grandeur—not nearly as effectively as when you’re standing there, right on the edge. Beyond that, though, I think it’s important not to neglect the finer, more overlooked, details within the canyon. It’s in there that you’ll find a dizzying array of layers, colors, and shapes and the fun challenge is trying to make sense of it all and find a way to capture it in your frame. Not only is the Grand Canyon a great place to learn about compositional theory, it also is a great place to test varying stylization methods. I hope everyone has the opportunity to take this challenge for themselves because learning how to make sense out of the Grand Canyon is surely a great lesson that will benefit you and the rest of your photography endeavors.

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6 Comments

  1. […] If I were to be critical of myself, I’d say that most of my life has been lived “on rails”, referring to video games that play out on a mostly predetermined track. In a lot of ways, it is sort of fitting because I have a really hard time focusing and maintaining my attention span on anything for more than a few minutes. I went to grade school, high school, college and grad school… wrapping all of that up the way I was “supposed to”. I got a …read more […]

  2. e April 11, 2015 at 2:19 pm - Reply

    May I, from the vista of further down the path, advise that you are at the perfect place to start “puttting it all togher”. Fear not — you are doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing (whatever that is). “Faith” is believing in your ‘gut’ even when your mind questions. Go for it and blessing from your sibling from another dimension.

  3. […] Brian Matiash “I don’t care what you say anymore. This is my life.” ~Billy Joel If I were to be […]

  4. Marc Feldesman April 16, 2015 at 2:20 pm - Reply

    I spent another day at the Grand Canyon less than 3 weeks ago. I’ve been there at least 8 times before. For the first time in my life, my pictures started talking on a life of their own. Panos, HDR, layer merges all came from my day at the big rocks. There is no easy way to grasp the enormity of the Grand Canyon, and the span of geological time represented. As someone who specialized in human paleontology during his working career, I chose to focus on the layers of sediment, the opulent color changes and trying to figure out what was happening to the stratigraphy over time. It is an intricate story, but for the first time, I’m proud of some of my pictures.

  5. Jasmine April 17, 2015 at 3:10 pm - Reply

    The Grand Canyon def puts things into perspective. Next time your in the area, you should check out Sedona Az. That was one of the most beautiful and peaceful places I have ever been.

  6. Woody June 8, 2015 at 2:10 pm - Reply

    Your timing is perfect, I’m planning a trip. Thanks for the tips on telephoto, I was thinking wide angle all the way but you are giving me a different perspective. Thanks for the Antelope Canyon tips too!

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